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More House RES Testimony

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While the Senate has voted overwhelmingly to approve S.F. 4, calling for a strong renewable energy standard for Minnesota, the House continued to hear testimony on it in the Energy Committee on Wednesday, 7 Feb. I attended, having heard they would hear ammendments to bill H.F. 4 but Representative Westrom (the Republican lead and former Chair of the committee) could not make it. Thus, they heard more testimony and pushed off ammendments for Monday.

Before going over the House testimony, I wanted to note the 4 Senators who voted against the RES. Senators Hann, Ingebrigsten, Pariseau, and Skoe all voted against passing S.F. 4. Given the amount of work that went into creating a strong compromise bill, it is too bad it could not leave the Senate unanimously. My previous RES coverage is available here.

Betsy Engelking from Xcel Energy presented their position and answered many questions. Before she could start though, Representative Peterson again reminded everyone that he is annoyed at the Senate's version and people testifying should keep their focus on HR 4.

Betsy started by discussing the varied and confusing requirements levied at Xcel by the legislature. I hadn't realized the wording of the original mandate to Xcel - that it ordered Xcel to purchase 425 MW of wind generation by a certain date. They fulfilled that with 10 year contracts. Xcel is under no obligation to renew those contracts and they start coming up soon.

I expect this is one of the reasons S.F. 4 removed the many different requirements on Xcel and folded them into one - 30% by 2020. This change freed up some 1125 MW of wind that could not previously be counted under the REO language to count toward the new standard and eases Xcel's burden somewhat while giving them full credit for their wind investments.

Xcel is aiming to have 1300MW of wind capacity installed by the end of this year. However, there is a question as to how much of that Xcel can own. They are currently building a 100MW wind farm. Some legislation, aimed at encouraging community investment (pre-dating the C-BED (Community-Based Energy Development) framework) said that Xcel could not own more than 100 MW of wind generation but it was unclear if that language applied to everything or just the 300 MW mandate that it added to Xcel's total mandates. So Xcel wants that language cleaned up so it can own more wind (when I read it the passage last year, I thought it only applied to the 300MW but I ain't no lawyer).

Interestingly, Xcel believes it will hold to its 2003 carbon dioxide emissions on its 30% by 2020 path. This is hardly going to stop global climate change, but it means that Xcel will not be increasingly its emissions.

In the period for questions and answers, Engelking discussed the recent cold snap and Xcel's call for consumers to limit their power usage due to tight availability of electricity. Representative Beard asked about the state of the grid, saying he had read that they had less than 4% spare capacity at times.

Engelking replied that they were caught in the middle of planned upgrades and an unexpected problem with one of the boilers at the Sherco unit (a huge coal plant). This is what left them with unexpectedly low spare capacity when the cold snap hit.

This would have been a great time for her to cast doubt on the plan to add so much wind onto the grid but she did not take it.

Beard went on to say he did not see the final purpose of this bill - was it for jobs? GHG reduction? Local economic development? And then he went and noted that they were all sitting there putting carbon dioxide into the air. What that has to do with anything, I'm not sure - I think most people were confused as to what human respiratory systems have to do with requiring additional renewable electricity on the grid.

For those who are not aware, there is a natural balance of GHGs in the world. GHGs are constantly being released and transformed in a continuous cycle. Human activity (from massive reliance on fossil fuels) has overwhelmed this process by releasing too many GHGs. Thus the point of controlling climate change is not to stop all GHG emissions but to return the natural system to a balanced state.

Toward the end of the meeting, Peterson made a plea for the Committee to pass the RES. He noted that they could pass it with a party-line vote but he did not want it to come to that. To that end, he asked that they set aside the C-BED issues until later and focus on passing an RES now.

On Monday, 12 Feb, the House Energy Committee will deal with amendments to H.F. 4 and we'll see what happens next.